... is coming home in the end.
The trip was great, but exhausting. We both got quite ill; however, Ferret got very sick at the end and is still feeling bad. The whole tour group got a tummy bug at one point or another. Let's just say that it is super-great to not have to brush your teeth using bottled water anymore.Casablanca
was kind of crap. Nothing like the movie at all - the French charm has been sucked right out of this city altogether. It's the industrial capital of Morocco, and boy-howdy you can tell. It's dirty and ugly and there really isn't much to see there. We saw the Hassan II Mosque, the second largest mosque in the world (after Mecca), which can seat up to 100k worshipers. It was only built in 1993, but it is gorgeous.Rabat
, by comparison, was beautiful. That is the capital of Morocco and contains the Royal Palace, where Mohammed VI spends much of his time behind the golden doors of his throne room. There's also the Chellah, a walled city that started in 40 BC by the Romans, and contains ruins up through the 1700s. The Kasbah Ouiadades was out-and-out phenomenal. It's a 300 year old medina (small walled city), where the same families have lived for all of those years. We got to even go into our guide's home - four tiny rooms, with just a large skylight for a window.
From there, we drove to Meknes
, the agricultural capital of Morocco. The countryside looked a lot like other Mediterranean countries, so it's no wonder that the Romans liked it there. Meknes is known for its wine... however, you have to remember that this is a Muslim country, where alcohol is not encouraged. So, you can imagine the quality of wine from that sort of attitude. I don't remember too much from Meknes, because I was starting to get sick with the tummy bug at that point. There was a mausoleum of somebody important, and a whole bunch of gates ("bab"). And then we went into the souk. I think I'm fairly hearty about where food (especially meat) comes from. I was raised with the idea that food doesn't have to be perfectly sterile to be okay to eat. However
, going down a hall where there were all these pastries and sweets and dates absolutely covered
- and I mean that, covered - in bees, wasps and flies, then turning the corner to the butcher section... my already tender stomach was utterly turned.
Unfortunately, that meant that I missed out on some of Volubilis
, a beautiful Roman ruin. We had a terrific local guide, too, and I normally adore listening to educated men talk about stuff. Ferret took control of the camera and I just trailed around, sitting down whenever we stopped.Fes
, though, made up for it. The old medina was built in 808, and the "new city" in the 15th C, so you can imagine the history there. Fes is this amazing labyrinth of tight alleyways where there is no car traffic, just pedestrians and donkeys carrying all manner of things. We were there during a special day of Ramadan, where children are encouraged to fast just a little bit (it's part of their culture, and our guide assured us that children are not forced to fast the whole day, just encouraged to take part for some of the day). We saw all these adorable little tykes in their special day costumes, and OH they were just so beautiful. We got a picture of one little girl, and I wish I had my camera ready earlier, because the whole family was worth a picture. As we were coming back from a tour, we saw a festival going on where a little boy was sitting on a pony and a little girl was being hoisted in a decorated white chair - our guide said that they were being congratulated for fasting the whole day.
A word or two about Ramadan: very interesting. Our tour leader was Muslim, and observed Ramadan as best he could. He did not eat or drink with us all day long, nor did our driver. We had dinner together after the sundown prayer. There were frustrations: not many places were open for food or drink during the day, the menus were often limited (three meals in a row, what I ordered, they didn't have), and we had to go to tourist destinations to eat during the day. But, our guide told us that it helps the people who observe Ramadan to understand real poverty - they understand what it is like to be really hungry, or to not be able to do what you want - so they are more likely to be charitable. Islam is actually a lot about being charitable, and actually DOING it, rather than talking about it (*cough* Christianity, I'm looking at YOU *cough*). Since we don't drink, it wasn't a deal that there was no alcohol or smoking available, but it was quite a deal for some of our other members; it made them think about the amount they imbibed. And the call-to-prayer five times a day actually made it so we thought about time differently. Ok, there's the call, time to stop for a little while so our guide can pray. I found it very eye-opening, and can say that I have a deeper appreciation for Islam now.
From Fes, we took a day trip to Sefrou
, a poor city. This was a place that had been settled by Jewish people five hundred years ago, but after the 6-day War, the Jews all up and moved to Israel. It's very interesting, because it's now a Muslim and Berber city, but the Jewish monuments (synagogues and community buildings) still remain.
We started through the Atlas Mountains at that point, and ended up at a Kasbah for my birthday. And yes, I rocked it. We were in another small, Berber village, and it was beautiful. We wandered through their fields and watched children on donkeys getting water and men picking apples. A woman invited our whole group (9 people) into her 3 room house and offered mint tea, cookies and fresh walnuts. She looked about 45 or older, but someone asked her age, and she was the same age as I turned that day. Life was hard. Even without understanding each others' language, the ladies of our group managed to make some comments about the men and the Berber women understood. Some things are universal.
Then it was camel day! I have found my inherent talent: I can ride a camel easily. Poor Ferret nearly dislocated his hip getting on his camel, but survived as well. The Sahara was lovely and so quiet at night. There were several little cats that lived with the desert people nearby that played on our roof (I was rooting for a "death from above!", but they never did it). The stars were very bright, and different from North America.
We then wound our way up the Atlas Mountains, through the Dades Valley
to stay at a Berber auberge made of mud and hay bricks. I found the place absolutely delightful, but it was definitely rustic. They didn't turn the power on until sunset, and there was a cow right outside our window who lowed quite forlornly when milked (at sunrise). The view of the mountains was breathtaking. This was the Valley of the Roses, where they use rose bushes as hedgerows between their crops, and then harvest the roses for perfume, soap, etc every spring. We took a 10k hike up into the hills there, to a 300 year old kasbah. When I say "10k hike up", I really mean that the first 5k was pretty much UP HILL. Not fun. But worth it! The family that owned the kasbah came out and fed us mint tea and "berber omelette", which was a tagine of eggs, tomatoes, onions and garlic served with bread cooked over hot stones (sometimes, the stones still embedded in the bread!). The lady of the house brought out a tin and a kettle and washed our hands. Later, she put henna on the hands of the women in the group, little round suns of brown on our palms. It was something really special.
Ramadan ended while we were there, and we could hear all the men of the village chanting and singing in the fields, and saw them parading in their pristine white djellabas.
Our next stop was lunch in Ouarzazate
, the Hollywood of Africa. Lots of movies were made near there, including The Mummy, Prince of Persia, Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia, and Kingdom of Heaven
. We proceeded on to a famous (in Morocco) kasbah called Amridril, but it was overshadowed by our stop that night at the complex of Ait Ben Haddou
. That was were they filmed Gladiator and Prince of Persia
, and is a 500 year old collection of kasbahs. People still live there, too, with their donkeys, sheep and goats. It was really something to see.
(GEEK NOTE: In the game Prince of Persia, they often show the traditional Arabic architecture, which is round with onion-shaped domes. Persian architecture, as I learned on this trip, is actually SQUARE. The round ones are Ottoman, the square ones are Persian. Morocco is the only Islamic country that was not captured by the Ottomans, and maintains the Persian style architecture. Get it right, Ubisoft!!!)
Finally, we got to Marrakech
. By then, my poor hubby was as sick as a dog, so he did not get to enjoy this city as much as I did. The thing to see there is Place Djemaa el Fna, a roaring plaza filled with buskers and snake charmers and monkey men and ... well, anything you can imagine. I was tempted to go to a hammam (bath house) because it was just so darned cheap (like, $35 for the "deluxe" package), but being naked where I can't communicate just didn't appeal to me. I had a lot of fun in the shops there, and managed to bargain a few things, including a lovely hand-worked garnet & silver necklace that I got for about $25. Ferret was feeling just alive enough on our last day to make a bit of a walk down to see the Saadian tombs, where some very important people were buried, and the architecture was amazing.
I think most people are friended on Facebook, but in case you missed it, the photos are here:http://www.flickr.com/photos/41505243@N06/sets/72157622344725647/